Fifteenth-century ruins sit nestled between sharp, rocky peaks. Ancient cliffs tower over the lush Sacred Valley. Mist rolls across the landscape and a cool breeze blows across the grassy green terraces.
This Incan site was one of my very earliest sources of wanderlust. I remember being very young, and seeing a picture of Machu Picchu in a travel magazine somewhere in my house. I knew that I had to visit this ancient wonder someday–it called to me, and I never forgot it.
I eventually was able to pay a visit to this Incan estate, with a group of friends during a week-long visit to Peru. We took the train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, and set off to explore Machu Picchu together.
It exceeded every last one of my expectations.
To me, Machu Picchu was magical, spiritual, and beautiful. The combination of towering cliffs, soft grass, smooth old stones, and mountain air took my breath away. It was one of those glorious moments of travel that gives you chills and soaks into your heart.
Which is why I deeply, deeply regret how quickly we passed through it.
We were part of a tour, and although our guide was both informative and humorous, he prevented us from just sitting and being in the moment. We took pictures, learned the history, and asked questions. We walked around and explored a good bit, and logically I know that we were there for a reasonable amount of time, but I didn’t spend any time just sitting there in silence and soaking in the moment. And I really wish I had.
I think that there’s something powerful about putting down your camera and your phone, forgetting about capturing the perfect photograph, tuning out the people around you (friends and tour guides included), and just simply doing nothing.
At the time, you may feel like an hour, or a few hours, or even a day is plenty of time to see that famous landmark or that foreign city. And it may be–if you use your time right. If not, then days and weeks and months and years down the road, those four hours you spent taking pictures at the Grand Canyon may not feel like much. Slowly but surely, you’ll forget what it feels like to walk down Paris streets, and you’ll lose touch with the emotion you felt at Angkor Wat. Because truthfully, staring at the scenery through a phone or camera screen is not a good memory, and neither is rushing through a site like Machu Picchu just to say you’ve been. Those memories won’t resonate with you the way memories do if you allow yourself to actually feel and absorb every moment. Those are the kinds of memories that stick with you, and I failed to create those kind of memories at Machu Picchu.
Sure, I got some great shots. But when I think back on my time there, I truly wish that I had some deeper memories than that.
If I could do it all again (and I plan to someday) I would spend a full day there. I would slowly walk around the perimeter, and peer down every steep, rocky drop-off. I would memorize the scenery and then close my eyes, trying to picture what it must have looked like in 1450, and what it must have felt like to be there then. I would find a quiet spot in the grass, lay down, and rest for an hour.
Imagine how much more vivid my memories would be if I had taken the time to do that?
Thankfully, this particular trip was a wake-up call. I learned my lesson, and I now remember to always take the time to absorb my surroundings when I’m traveling somewhere new. Of course, pictures are a great thing to have. However, I would much rather have detailed memories of the smells, sounds, sensations, and sights of a place. Pictures can help you recall those detailed memories, but only if you take the time to make them in the first place.
Have you ever regretted rushing through a destination that was important to you?